There is something magic about making your own syrup from things in the garden in the springtime. You start with a handful of leaves or blossoms (free of any chemicals!), a few cups of water and sugar, and end up with a taste so intense that you do not need more than a sip to flavor a non-alcoholic drink or a cocktail. A bottle will last well into the summer, and it keeps even longer if you seal the bottles by processing them in a boiling water bath.
Our house is a soda-free zone so a glass of ice-cold seltzer water with syrup is a real sugar boost. When we come back inside after hours of gardening, sweaty and exhausted, there is nothing more refreshing.
Over the years I have tinkered with different syrups. Some I make every year. Each has its own unique taste, and I really cannot tell which one I like best.
Citric acid is added for preservation to prevent mold. If I only make a small amount because I know we will use it within a couple of weeks, I often omit the citric acid.
Here are the syrups in chronological order of the harvest time (click on the link to get to the recipe):
Dandelion Blossom Syrup – The syrup with the most robust, “greenest” flavor, even if you use only the petals and none of the green parts, which I have resorted to after several trials.
Sweet Woodruff Syrup – The leaves of this shade-loving herb, which is more known as a groundcover than as an edible in the United States, makes syrup that tastes a bit like vanilla.
Lilac Syrup – The most flowery-tasting of the syrups.
Fir Tip Syrup – The pine-y taste and smell gives away where this is coming from. In my native Germany it is used as a cold remedy but we like it so much that we drink it no matter what.
Elderflower Syrup – Every year I debate with myself how many elderflowers I should sacrifice for the syrup because I also want the berries in September. Elderflower Syrup is used to make the trendy German cocktail Hugo.
Lemon Balm Syrup – This is also used to make Hugo. Because lemon balm grows so abundantly all summer it is the least ephemeral of the raw materials, it can still be made later inthe summer but the leaves should be harvested before they bloom.
Photos by Ted Rosen